Muyiwa Oki also criticises absence of clear plan for addressing the UK’s “shamefully” energy inefficient housing stock

RIBA has criticised the Conservative party’s housing-focused election manifesto for failing to include the planning reforms needed to reach the party’s targets for new homes.

Rishi Sunak unveiled the policy prospectus yesterday, pledging to build 1.6 million homes over the term of the parliament if he wins the 4 July general election. This would be equivalent to 320,000 homes per year, higher than the current 300,000 target.

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Sunak pledged to build the equivalent of 320,000 homes a year during the first term of the next Parliament if he wins the 4 July election

The prime minister also committed to reintroducing Help to Buy and raising the stamp duty threshold for first time buyers as part of a series of measures aiming to boost housing demand.

But the document was widely criticised by housing industry experts for a lack of supply side reforms, including the greater flexibility for building on green belt land offered by Labour.

RIBA president Muyiwa Oki also criticised the manifesto for not providing a clear plan for increasing the energy efficiency of UK homes.

He said: “This manifesto contains some welcome commitments such as prioritising brownfield development, supporting community housing schemes, and delivering homes for older people, but it lacks a clear strategy to upgrade our shamefully energy inefficient housing stock.  

“While appreciating the need for a more efficient planning system, it fails to mention the lack of adequate expert resource – critical to delivering high-quality, sustainable homes in places people want to live.  

“These are steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done to address our housing and climate crises.”

At-a-glance: Housing policies in the Conservative manifesto

  • Make permanent the increase to the threshold at which first-time buyers pay Stamp Duty to £425,000 from £300,000
  • Launch a new Help to Buy scheme to provide first-time buyers with an equity loan of up to 20% towards the cost of a new build home
  • Implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ expectation of social housing landlords for anti-social behaviour. They will be expected to evict tenants whose behaviour is disruptive to neighbours and the local community.
  • Deliver 1.6 million well-designed homes over the course of the parliament “in the right places”
  • Renew the affordable homes programme
  • Retain a “cast-iron commitment to protect the Green Belt”
  • Abolish ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules to immediately unlock the building of 100,000 new homes with developers legally required to pay a one-off mitigation fee
  • Require councils to set aside land for smaller builders them and lift Section 106 burdens on smaller sites
  • Create locally-led urban development corporations in partnership with the private sector and institutional investors to develop brownfield regeneration sites
  • Complete leasehold reform by capping ground rents at £250, reducing them to peppercorn over time
  • Pass a Renters Reform Bill to fully abolish Section 21 and strengthen other grounds for landlords to evict private tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour
  • Speed up infrastructure projects and reduce costs by allowing quicker changes to consented projects, ensuring national policy statements are regularly updated and ensuring statutory consultees are focused on improving projects in line with clearer objectives.
  • Amend the law to make it difficult for people to bring judicial reviews against planned projects that don’t have “merit”

UK Green Building Council deputy chief executive Simon McWhirter agreed that the Conservatives had not provided enough detail on how buildings would be decarbonised.

He also said it was unclear how the UK would reach its net zero targets under the party’s commitments, which he warned would lead to greater uncertainty over climate policy.

“The manifesto doesn’t go anywhere far enough on addressing the linked climate, nature and cost-of-living crises we are facing,” McWhirter said.

“We still need a ‘Clear Plan’ to rapidly decarbonise the country, and upgrade people’s homes and town centres.

“We need to see the ‘Bold Action’ to address the millions of damp, dangerous and expensive-to-run properties, and protect our communities from climate risks. 

“Instead of inspiring and galvanising us to action, these Conservative commitments add uncertainty and risk, rather than promising a ‘Secure Future’.”

Sav Patel, associate director at planning consultant Lanpro Services, welcomed the ambition of the Conservative’s headline figure for housebuilding but said the mechanisms set out to achieve this were “unbalanced”, with too much focus on urban developments. 

“Bringing forward this type of development is often complex and lengthy,” he said. “There is no encouragement for higher delivery rates in the rest of the country. 

“Meanwhile, the Conservatives are offering a ‘cast-iron’ protection for the Green Belt, which stands in contrast to Labour’s proposed review of Green Belt policy.” 

Karen Charles, executive director at Boyer, agreed that there was “a need and demand for homes in less urban locations” and said if the prime minister wanted the increase in housebuilding stated in the manifesto, then his government would “relax some planning restrictions”. 

Terry Woodley, managing director of development finance at lender Shawbrook, said the Tories’ plans to increase development on brownfield sites “could be an effective piece to the puzzle” of solving the housing crisis, but said it was “not the sole solution” and warned that it would “come with its challenges”. 

“Though our research shows that 77% of developers agree that location is still the biggest driver of property sales and brownfield sites allow for attractive urban living options, the sites can often pose a unique set of challenges and may not be as attractive to developers compared to other options,” he said.  

“Whilst this could be a positive change, any government considering these steps must ensure that they’re taking a multi-pronged approach to adequately tackling housing issues if we are to see real progress over the next 12 months and beyond.” 

According to Rico Wojtulewicz, head of policy at the House Builders Association, said the Tory prospectus was too limited even in its vision for cities, questioning how much brownfield development could achieve if it was based on “gentle density”, as set out in the manifesto. 

“Development built to a maximum of ten storeys, the gentle density definition, will pass the housing crisis on to the next generation as too few homes will be built, with mixed developments made broadly unviable,” he said.  

“The NFB’s ‘community density’ approach ensures that in major cities, residential and non-residential needs are made viable in a well-designed and thoughtfully planned development.” 

Beyond this, he said there was “much to welcome in the manifesto”, particularly on apprenticeships, while his boss Beresford noted that tax cuts for the self-employed would benefit the sector, given almost 50% of its labour force fall into the category.